Wednesday 28 April 2010

Garden flowers

Did some work in the garden this morning and then walked around taking a few photos of the early spring blooms. Garden-wise I think this is one of my favourite times of the year when everything is new and green and sparkling somehow, despite the lack of rain in this part of the world just lately.

I'm not actually the biggest Azelea fan in the whole world but even I have to admit that this one is looking stunning this year.

What this is called I have no idea but it too is looking rather impressive.

Posies of primroses next to one of the veg beds. They're sitting amongst what we call 'poached egg plants' which will be out in a few weeks. Hubby would have this untidy little patch out but I refuse to let him touch it!

The apple blossom is almost out, a week should do it I would think.

The helebores, which will be going over soon I imagine.

Think this might be some kind of sea-holly but am not sure. Whatever, the leaves are stunning.

I think this is a dicentra (sp) but we know it as 'Bleeding heart' for obvious reasons. This has to be one of my favourite plants as it just so pretty and delicate.

You can see why I like them so much...

And last but not least the one of the rhodedendrons... it's going over a little now but is ten foot tall and has been giving us a stunning display for a couple of weeks.


Tuesday 27 April 2010


I rarely read a series of books straight off without a break and Susan Cooper's 'Dark is Rising' sequence is a typical example: I've been reading it for about a year now. Greenwitch is book three in the series and I've just read it for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge. I find challenges like this one perfect for making me get a move on with various series that I'm dragging my feet on!

The grail cup that children, Simon, Jane and Barney found in Cornwall and which they gave to a museum to look after, has been stolen. Great Uncle Merriman visits and suggests they spend the last week of their Easter holidays back in Trewissick to see if they can recover it. He joins them and with him comes Will Stanton from book two, unbeknown to the children, the last of The Old Ones and there to assist Merriman in the quest.

Simon, Jane and Barney don't take to Will at first and make life difficult for him... much to Merriman's annoyance. Then Barney is assaulted by a strange dark haired man while sketching the harbour, and his picture stolen. Why? Jane, being the only girl, is invited to the night-long ceremony of the Greenwitch where an effigy is built and thrown into the sea. It's a very odd night indeed, culminating in her making a wish...

There's a storm coming, literally and figuratively, and the dark haired stranger is at the centre and maybe even the cause of it. That night will be one of the most frightening Jane will ever experience. The children join forces at last to defeat this representative of the dark and, hopefully, recover the grail.

This is the book that brings together the three children from book one and Will Stanton from book two. It was nice to have them back in Cornwall (I've decided that Trewissick is probably Mevagissey) but I didn't find this book to be quite as good as the first two. It seemed to lack the same detail and atmosphere and felt slightly rushed to me. Nevertheless it was still entertaining and full of action and I'm looking forward to their continued adventures, this time in Wales I believe, in book four, The Grey King.

This was book four for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge. One more book to go... although I will almost certainly read more than the five books required. I'm quite pleased with myself that I'm actually reading the books in my pool for once and thus taking a few books off the tbr mountain. That is until the two new Temeraire books by Naomi Novik arrive, and I've also added The Snow Spider trilogy by Jenny Nimmo. So perhaps I should stop patting myself on the back quite so enthusiastically!


Friday 23 April 2010


I've taken my camera out with me a couple of times over the past few weeks so thought I'd share a few of the results with anyone who might be at all interested. Views are of the Somerset coast, Exmoor, and Knightshaye's Court near here. As always, click on the pic a couple of times for a larger view.

I particularly loved this glorious bed of polyanthus and hyacinths in Minehead high street the other day.

The beautiful view from the top of Porlock hill, down over Porlock beach. You can just see Wales in the distance.

Exmoor. I thought the trees lined up on the horizon looked like Zulu warriors from that movie.

The old stone bridge at Exbridge... spring daffs only just out a couple of weeks ago.

The woods at Knightshayes Court last week. Spring well and truly arrived.

The woodpile.

Primroses in the grass.

The back gate into the walled kitchen garden.

Inside the walled garden and the beginnings of the huge herbacious borders they have there in summer.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.

Daffs in the chicken run.

What they grow their peas or sweetpeas on: I want one.

And this is just a pic I took out of the bedroom window last week. The town was obscured by a foggy haze and then I spotted the balloon...


Thursday 22 April 2010

Historical - Temeraire

Temeraire - otherwise known as His Majesty's Dragon - by Naomi Novik, is one of those books I've been meaning to read for several years. I know I've put it on my lists for three, if not four, challenges and each time I've finished the challenge with Temeraire unread. Which is a shame really, although in my defense I've always known I would get to it one day and that when I did I would probably love it. So I wasn't ignoring it in the way that you do sometimes when you've bought a book and totally gone off the idea of reading it. Anyway, enough waffle, this time - I refer to this year's Once Upon a Time challenge of course - I was absolutely determined to read it. And I have!

It's the time of the Napoleonic wars and Captain William Laurence is in command of the British vessel, HMS Reliant. A French frigate is sighted off Madeira and battle commences. The Reliant is successful and takes the French ship, but something is not right. The crew are clearly under-fed and weary and in the hold of the vessel Laurence finds the answer. They are carrying a precious dragon egg and it is close to hatching.

Making swift calculations Laurence realises that they have no chance of reaching shore before the egg hatches. Someone aboard will have to harness the young dragon - thus committing himself to a lifetime of being an aviator. It will mean the end of life as that person knows it because from there on he will have to devote himself to his dragon completely. Lots are drawn and a young officer chosen. He is reluctant but willing, but in the event, when the egg hatches, it is Laurence himself that the dragon bonds with. Laurence's life as a naval officer is over.

Or is it? On reaching shore, the head of the aviators sends someone 'more appropriate' to relieve Laurence of the dragon. Laurence, already very attached, is upset but all is well when the dragon, now named 'Temeraire', refuses the change of partner.

Back in England and after explaining the situation to his horrified parents and fiance, Laurence begins his training in Scotland. He is not welcome in the dragon covert. A 'clodpole' navy man amongst young men trained from childhood to their calling - he is a misfit. Only the other misfits want to know him and his life would be a lonely one if it weren't for Temeraire: the two are now inseparable.

Laurence's task now is prove himself. He has to prove worthy of the very special dragon that Temeraire turns out to be... but he also has to prove to the doubters that he can lead in battle and help win the war.

Well, I was told I would probably love this and of course I did. It was a no brainer really - dragons in the Regency period, what's not to like? Naomi Novik has written a delightful book which focusses, first and foremost, on the relationship between Captain Laurence and Temeraire. I was slightly afraid that the focus might be on battles and tactics and there was some of that, but not enough to put me off.

The relationships Laurence forges at the covert are central to the book as well. There are surprises and tensions and a very steep learning curve for both Laurence and his dragon, because Temeraire is also very new at all of this. Laurence makes mistakes, tries to right wrongs and it's all great fun to read about. The historical detail is not at all dry and dusty but is incorparated nicely into the plot, although this being an alternate universe type of story, there are differences of course.

I'm sure anyone reading this will sense that I enjoyed this book immensely. This of course is only the first book in a series which is now six volumes long and I'm so pleased about that! Hopefully I can pick up book two, The Throne of Jade, fairly soon because I really can't wait.

This is book three for my Once Upon a Time challenge which is being hosted by Carl, and book four for my Year of the Historical challenge, which is being hosted by Lurv a la Mode.


Sunday 18 April 2010

A movie and a TV show

I don't usually do movie or TV entertainment type posts as this is, after all, a book blog, but sometimes something is so good you just have to spread the word. And also, I love it when I get this kind of rec from people's blogs. It gives me a dvd to look out for, a movie to go to, or a new TV show to try and find... (the latest of those being the American TV series, 'Castle'. I've heard it's a really fun crime series but it hasn't reached our main channels here in the UK yet, and it's about time it did!)

Anyway. We had our grandaughter here staying last week and as there was nothing on at the movies that was suitable to take her to, I checked out the dvds in the supermarket. In amongst the cheapy section was The Bridge to Terabithia.

This rang a huge bell... I remembered reading a review of a book by the same name and assumed it was the movie of the book. We bought it and settled down to watch one afternoon.

It's about Jesse, a farm boy who lives with his four sisters and mum and dad. They're not at all well off and emotionally anyway, it seems that Jesse is rather neglected, his parents lavishing a lot of care and love on his tweo younger sisters. Jesse is not happy at school either, he's bullied and withdrawn.

Jesse's life changes when Leslie moves in nextdoor. She's the well educated, only child of two writers and she too is lonely as her parents concentrate a lot on their work. Jesse and Leslie become friends and create the imaginary land of Terabithia out in the woods. It's full of adventure, they are the king and queen and get to fight imaginary, frightening creatures. For the first time in his life, Jesse has a friend and someting to live for.

Well, gosh. This was not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting a fantasy story and yes, there is a small fantasy element to it. But really it's all about the friendship between Jesse and Leslie and how friendship can literally change your life. Their school life is featured a lot, and their home life, and it's quite involving to be honest; you get very wrapped up in events and when something tragic happens late in the movie it's quite devastating. I cried.

The acting in this movie was quite something. Jesse is played by Josh Hutcherson and Leslie by AnnaSophia Robb and both put in stellar performances, but the supporting cast is wonderful too.

One thing I would say... it mentions the Narnia film on the cover. Although it doesn't actually say, ' This is like that movie', some might think it is. It's not... not even remotely... it's better actually, a much more personal and touching film.

All in all, I so recommend this movie. I did wonder if it was a bit old for my almost ten year old grandaughter but she sat entranced all through and loved it to bits. We did too and will certainly be watching it again.


And the other thing I have to mention is that DCS Christopher Foyle is back on our screens in the UK. It was cancelled a couple of years ago when the ITV 'Higher Ups' changed... the new head honcho didn't like it or something. But there was a huge public outcry, he left (some say because of this stupidity), and Foyle's War is back. People Power rules! LOL.

Here's Christopher Foyle, played by the wonderful and gorgeous (in my opinion anyway) Michael Kitchen.

And here's a rather nice YouTube vid:

I think Foyle's War could easily be my favourite ever TV series. It's so beautifully acted, so restrained, the productions just beautiful. But also it deals with the awkward stuff about WW2. It never says, 'We're all good and the Germans all bad'. It knows full well that there were horrible people on the allied side as well as on the German side. That horrible things happened here, people sacrificed for nothing, people profitting from the war etc. I love that and am thrilled that the series is now back for a 7th. season and is just as wonderful as ever. For those in the US I gather that PBS are screening it in early May. It's a treat not to be missed.


Saturday 17 April 2010

The Earth Hums in B Flat

I'm fairly certain that the first (and maybe only) place I read about The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan was on Elaine's blog - Random Jottings. And I actually haven't read her entire review at all. I got as far as 'Gwenni flies in her sleep', checked it out on Amazon, and ordered it. Such is the power of blogging.

The story is set in an isolated village in Wales in the 1950s. Young Gwenni lives with her mother and father and sister, Bethan, a family that is not really a family at all. Gwenni is very close to her father 'Tada', but is heartily disliked by her mother and older sister. Why? Well, Gwenni is very definitely 'different'. At night, when asleep, she can fly and she can also see things that others don't; Toby jugs on the shelf reacting to events in the house; a fox-fur blinking at her in church; moving faces in the peeling paintwork in the kitchen. Gwenni's mother calls her odd and is constantly afraid of what the neighbours will think of her strange daughter who loves to read and write stories.

Luckily, Gwenni herself is not isolated. Apart from her father she also gets on well with 'Nain' - her grandmother, Mrs. Evans, an educated woman who lends her books, and her best friend and soulmate, Alwenna. But there's a growing problem. Alwenna is older than Gwenni and has just discovered boys: she is beginning not to have any time for Gwenni.

The story really begins when Gwenni is out flying one night and sees the dead body of Ifan Evans floating in the reservoir. She prays it isn't true, that she has dreamt it. When she visits the Evans family the next day and finds Mrs. Evans's face is bleeding, and her husband missing, she assumes - and hopes - that a visit to the dentist has caused the damage. Gwenni sets about trying to find the missing husband. He's known as a bit of a brute and a womaniser and innocent Gwenni starts to discover things she wishes she'd hadn't. When the dead body of Ifan Evans actually does turn up the life of the village is turned upside down. Gwenni's family has secrets and these secrets seem to involve her mentally ailing mother... and possibly the dead man. Is Gwenni going to have do as Alwenna instructs and 'grow up' fast?

Well, obviously I don't know anything about 1950s Wales but I do remember late 1950s and early 1960s Cornwall and, to tell the truth, there isn't much difference. Penzance was a different place to rural Wales but attitudes were very similar. All working class families back then had their little secrets and I have to admit to doing just what Gwenni did and lurking quietly so that the adults forgot I was there. Amazing what you learnt as they chatted on, oblivious. I felt like I knew the Morgan family intimately, possibly because I identified so strongly with the stultified, claustrophobic atmosphere of that time; behaviour was strictly regulated and 'shame' was a big factor in keeping people in their place. Although, it was interesting to note, that ten years later, in the early sixties, church or chapel was less of a feature in people's lives and less of a regulating influence.

Gwenni is somewhat the Welsh equivalent of Mattie Gokey from A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. She's intelligent, full of curiosity, bookish. She's also, like Mattie, an unlikely candidate for further education simply because of her poor background. I felt for Gwenni just as I felt for Mattie - horribly sad for her prospects and angry and annoyed at the adults who try to thwart her ambition or squash her personality.

In this book the reader is in that odd situation where he or she knows more about what's going on than Gwenni. She's not mature enough to understand much of what she discovers, or has hinted to her, but the reader of course is and can see much of the calamity coming. That's not to say that the reader knows everything, of course, and things happen which take you by surprise. But really the joy of this book is in the world building, in following traumatic village events as they unfold - the story is told in the present tense - and in the fact that you really do care about the people in it, even the unpleasant ones. No mean achievement on the part of Mari Strachan; she has produced a page-turner for her first book - I gather it was a BBC4 'Book at Bedtime' at some stage - and I sincerely hope there will be a lot more from her.

Sunday 11 April 2010

The Janus Stone

It's quite funny really. I was so concerned about reading this book in time to get it back to the library by next Saturday that I thought I'd better get reading. I ought to have realised that The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths - book two in her Ruth Galloway series - would be unputdownable and that I would whip through it in a couple of days!

There are two archaeological digs going on in Ruth Galloway's part of Norfolk and she has an interest in both. One is a Roman dig near the village of Swaffham where Ruth meets up with a passing acquaintance, archaeologist Max Gray, from Sussex, who is heading the dig. The second is in Norwich where a children's home is being demolished to make way for luxury appartments. The dig there has discovered the skeleton of a child under a doorway and Ruth, being a forensic archaeologist, is called in to investigate.

Foul play is suspected in the case of the skeleton and DCI Harry Nelson is called in to head the case. He and Ruth have a recent history, despite the fact that he is married with teenage daughters. It's awkward because Ruth has a secret that she is reluctant to divulge for a while.

The children's home is investigated and the elderly catholic priest who used to run the place found and interviewed. But it seems the home was a happy one and the staff kindly and supportive. Then it's discovered that before the house was a children's home it was owned by the Spens family, one of the sons of which is doing the new build. Some digging into their family history is required and Ruth and the police take this on. Things become complicated as Ruth struggles to keep her secret while events turn nasty at her isolated home beside the saltmarsh. Someone is prowling around at night and it seems as though, once again, her life might very well be in danger...

If anything I think this second book was even better than the first. Ruth is the same independent woman, who doesn't conform to female stereotypes at all. But her life has moved on and it's quite rivetting following events and the way in which she deals with things. Her relationship with Harry is still very complicated and tentative and I like the way the author doesn't try to sugar-coat their problems or create a 'happy-ever-after' scenario.

Apart from Ruth and Harry, Griffiths has created some excellent characters; the new-age Cathbad, permanently clad in his purple cloak and nutty as a fruit-cake, but a genuine friend to Ruth; Shona, Ruth's promiscuous best friend whose relationship with Ruth took a bit of a battering in the previous book; and Ruth's born-again Christian parents whose reaction to Ruth's secret is tragically funny. I love them all, to be honest. I'm even warming to Harry's wife, Michelle. In fact, that's one excellent thing about this series... the author has gone in for shades of grey rather than black and white. Her characters have faults and foibles just as in real life and Griffiths uses humour to describe them rather than being overly judgemental and superior. Perhaps *that* is what is so appealing about the books? I honestly don't know, I just know that I adore the two books I've read so far and can't wait for more!

Thursday 8 April 2010

The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic is the first book of Terry Pratchett's long 'Discworld' series. When I first began reading them - about seven or eight years ago - several people suggested that I didn't start with the first two (The Light Fantastic being book two) but began instead with Equal Rights and Mort. This I did and I think this was sensible, but the result was that I've been putting off and putting off actually reading the books that started the Discworld series off. This omission was one reason that I was so pleased when I heard about Marg's Terry Pratchett challenge as it gave me an opportuniy to read these first two books, plus various others that I've missed for one reason or another. So, this is The Colour of Magic and the question really is, 'what was I afraid of?'

Rincewind is what you might call a failed wizard. It's not entirely his fault, he had an encounter with a serious book of spells and was never quite the same again. But still he's basically an inept cowardly sort and greedy at that. He comes across Twoflowers, a four-eyed tourist from the mythical Counterweight Continent - the very first tourist ever as a matter of fact - and together they manage to start a fire that lays waste to the city of Ankh-Morpok. Escape becomes necessary and, together with Twoflowers's rather unusual 'luggage', they flee the city.

Their adventures take them on a tour of the Discworld. First they come across Hrun the Barbarian and end up fighting an eight-legged monster in a labyrinth of caves - shades of Lovecraft's Cthulhu here. Then they find dragons, which are not supposed to exist, along with dragonriders, in an upside-down mountain and again have to fight their way out. This bit was rather Anne McCaffrey's Pern in flavour I thought. Lastly, they end up on the rim of the world where the seas flow over the edge in a huge waterfall, and get caught up in a local 'space' type mission to find out what's actually over the edge. And while all this is going on what are the Discworld gods up to? Helping or hindering?

I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this. It certainly is different in flavour to the later Discworld books. It's split into four or five novella type stories, all linked of course, and each one is much more of a spoof on the fantasy genre than later books are. Pratchett's humour is to the fore of course, although he still had to get into his stride I suspect. Death, for instance, a favourite character of mine, is slightly different - I'm guessing Pratchett still had to flesh his character out somewhat. He eventually became a lot more philosophical and kind of 'innocent' than he is here, where he's chasing after Rincewind desperate for him to die. I can't imagine him doing that in the later books.

One thing I really did enjoy about the book was the tour around the Discworld and discussions on the different countries and nationalites that make up the world itself. It was 'almost' a traditional fantasy novel in that respect and I liked that aspect a lot. I can't remember whether later books mention as many different part of the Discworld but I don't think so and perhaps that's a shame.

Anyway, all in all a very good read. I'd really like to read The Light Fantastic straight away as I gather it's very much a sequel, but I can't. A library book I have (The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths) is reserved by someone else and I only have it until the 17th. What with a busy week coming up (grandaughter coming to stay) I really need to start that if I'm to have any chance of finishing it in time.

The Colour of Magic is book three for Marg's Terry Pratchett challenge and book two for Carl's Once Upon a Time IV challenge.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Which fantasy author are you?

Couldn't resist this one but the result was a surprise.

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?...

Robert Jordan (1948-2007)

-5 High-Brow, -15 Violent, -29 Experimental and 19 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are Low-Brow, Peaceful, Traditional and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.

Robert Jordan, the pen name for James Oliver Rigney, Jr, was the author of the best-selling Wheel of Time series. This gargantuan piece of fiction, set in a world where half the source of magic has been tainted by the Evil One, so that only women can do magic without turning insane, was published between 1990 and 2005. It is scheduled to be finished by 2011 by author Brandon Sanderson, who will be working from Jordan's extensive notes, since the latter's tragic and premature death in cardiac amyloidosis made it impossible for him to finish the series by himself.

Fantasy readers across the world will remember Jordan as the creator of one of the most detailed secondary worlds ever imagined by a single person, with carefully crafted cultures, legends and conflicts. This he used as the setting for a grand epic tale of the traditional fantasy theme of Good against Evil and seemingly insignificant people discovering that they are destined to play an important role in this struggle. Although the plot centres around conflict and several important characters are warriors, be it by choice or necessity, Jordan does not bask in gory details of violence and war is described as something evil that essentially does more harm than good. However, he is able to discern the forces that might push countries into conflict, leaving little room for over-romantic notions of ever-lasting peace.

All this makes Jordan's epic tale the choice for those who are not daunted by the scope and length of what is, perhaps, the longest story ever written. There are plenty who would say that it is also one of the best.

You are also a lot like J K Rowling.

If you want some action, try David Eddings.

If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Gene Wolfe.

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received -5 points, making you more Low-Brow than High-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, while a typical low-brow would favour the best-selling kind. At their best, low-brows are honest enough to read what they like, regardless of what "experts" and academics say is good for them. At their worst, they are more likely to read what their neighbours like than what they would choose themselves.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received -15 points, making you more Peaceful than Violent. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you aren't, and you don't, then you are peaceful as defined here. At their best, peaceful people are the ones who encourage dialogue and understanding as a means of solving conflicts. At their worst, they are standing passively by as they or third parties are hurt by less scrupulous individuals.

Experimental vs. Traditional

You received -29 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don't change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received 19 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.

Author picture from Wikipedia. Licensed under the following conditions:

Take Which fantasy writer are you? at OkCupid


I've never read anything by Robert Jordon in my life - perhaps I should?